AGE DOES MATTER by Trudi Tapscott

During this last show season, the conversation about the well being of models escalated to more transparency than ever before.There are lessons to be learned on all sides and no one is free of reflection to make appropriate changes. Some areas are more complicated than others.

It seems like a simple task to guide all entities to making the right decision, especially when speaking about the welfare of young people.  But when you look at all sides of responsibility, there are many opinions and points of view to consider.

That being said, the age issue seems simple. The CFDA guidelines requiring models to be 16 years of age to work during New York fashion week is the first step in the right direction, in my opinion. This is an adult business. There is pressure and money at stake for everyone involved when promoting a brand. Anyone who expects a 14 year old to manage their emotions in this environment is nuts. It can even be hard for an 18 year old.

A model is a part of something larger, but not in control of the outcome. They have a physicality that is desired and hopefully a personality that backs that up, but modeling is an elusive skill that is judged and accepted by a few key people. It is hard to explain to anyone who is not “in it” or been very close to the sidelines. So the skill that makes one model a success over another is not specific once the physical aspects and physique are met.

The grooming and basics for a model with true modeling potential can start locally or regionally on a small scale and at a young age. A teenager may be “scouted” at 13 or 14 years old, but does not need to be in a large market at that age. I tell my clients that it is practice or pretend modeling until you are old enough to manage the entire business and the pressures that go with it. It doesn’t make my advice, or me, popular at times. Sometimes, it gives competitors a chance to offer a dream and world of opportunity ignoring the truth to gain the confidence of an aspiring model and her parents. It is easy to say what they want to hear.

Scouting requires an eye and imagination, but bears the responsibility of preparing the potential model and her parents for the business. This means the cold hard truth if you are experienced and strong enough to be honest and patient. It is much like sports, acting, music or any other competitive business. You need to learn before you can compete on a high level. But you never really know how far you will succeed until you do it. Dropping out of high school does not rush you to the top quickly to reach success. The fall from the top can be hard. Fashion can wait until a model is old enough to manage the “elusive” elements and therefore become relevant. Beauty doesn’t disappear.

During fashion week a designer said, “where are the parents?” and I have often wondered the same from time to time. That observation is from an adult in the business of promoting his brand, and maybe should not be deemed as the ethical barometer. It is not a reason to ignore suggested guidelines about age requirements, which should be the law for minors, but it is not necessarily the designer’s responsibility. Because the shows are so exciting and have launched many a career, fashion week, which is really a month, has been the primary focus of scouts and agents for years; a goal of preparation and quick response, so to speak. It is a moment of fast recognition and face-to-face encounters with an important, seated audience. However, in order to make the shows really pay off, a model needs to be available for the shooting season immediately following. If you go right back to school, it makes a challenging scheduling to maximize the efforts. It is a grueling pace for anyone. Models are expected to be up early, be on time, look amazing and dressed with style, run from here to there and back, while always staying happy to be there.

The modeling business is not a reality TV show that happens in a capsule. It is a business that takes years within which to build a reputation, if you want a good one, and minutes to be rejected or cancelled. This business is not for everyone, no matter how beautiful you are. Ambition and desire can overcome the ultimate goal and shortcuts never assist in attaining a career. If you want to be a recognized top model, then you will be required to work hard, and hopefully a little luck will assist you with the right introduction at the right time.

There are photographers and clients who won’t book a model unless she is 18. They should be praised for applying a standard that works for them and gives them the opportunity to only work with models that are experienced and available.

Bringing awareness to the age subject, and a few other issues related to the betterment of models, is important. And yet, in order to bring about a discussion or debate, it seems impossible to do so without pointing fingers.

What I find dangerous is to collectively criticize. So I am glad some of the pitfalls are being spoken about in a reasonable manner, and hope that it is the beginning of positive change.

Fashion is a small and exclusive club for the most part, and a young model strives to be successful, possibly ignoring her inner voice. Powerful decision makers can be convincing and give the illusion that they like and care on a personal level. It is a job. A job that can develop some outstanding friendships, create an amazing life for a model and work with the great people creating inspiring images with a passport full of amazing destinations.

And in the end, it is work and that is why age matters.